An all-out war seems to have broken out between the Election Commission (EC) and Law Minister Salman Khurshid. Taking strong exception to Mr Khurshid’s “defiant” attitude on his controversial minority quota remark, the poll panel has written to President Pratibha Patil accusing the minister of undermining its authority. The letter has now been forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office for appropriate action.
The EC’s move was triggered by Mr Khurshid’s statement at an election rally in the Khatakpur locality of Farrukhabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh on Friday where he reiterated his promise for increasing the sub-quota for minorities if the Congress was voted to power, the EC’s reservations notwithstanding.
“If they want to hang me they can, they can hang me for committing to people for a quota…We will change the fate of the poor, even if we have to go against EC, we will change the fate of the poor. I will then come and stand in front of the court of the people and fight my case. I want to stand in the court of the people and ask, ‘isn’t it the right of the people’?” Mr Khurshid had said.
The minister’s latest remarks immediately invited strong criticism from the poll panel. In a strongly-worded letter to the President, the EC said, “The Commission is shocked that instead of being remorseful about the violation of the Model Code, that carries the consensus of all political parties and the sanction of the Supreme Court, the Minister has chosen to be defiant and aggressive. This is unprecedented.” (Read the full letter)
The EC’s angry reaction stems from the fact that Mr Khurshid remained defiant despite being censured by it on Thursday over his minority quota remarks. The poll panel had found his statement to be a violation of the model code of conduct for elections, adding that that it expected him not to repeat such violations. (Read)
“We have found the tone and tenor of the Union Minister dismissive and utterly contemptuous about the Commission’s lawful direction to him, besides the fact that his action is damaging the level playing field in the election,” the EC said in its letter to the President.
The Congress, meanwhile, has maintained a stoic silence, refusing to be dragged into the controversy. But the senior minister has found support in senior party leader Digvijaya Singh who jumped to his defence.
“With great humility, I would like to ask the honourable Election Commission of India that if political outfits are not allowed to speak about their agenda, then the party manifesto should also be stopped. Every political party has the right to talk about their programs during election campaigns. So it is not correct to press charges like these against any political leader,” said Mr Singh.
Desperate for an issue to corner the Congress in poll season, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quick to seize upon the opportunity to demand the dismissal of the Law Minister. It also called on the PM to intervene in the matter.
“Under Art 75(2) of the Constitution a Minister can continue in office during the pleasure of the President… We request the President to withdraw her pleasure and dismiss Shri Salman Khurshid as a Minister of the Union Cabinet for acting against the law and the Constitution,” senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj tweeted.
Her party colleague and spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Nqaqvi added, “The PM and the President should interfere in this matter. If the government doesn’t remove Khurshid, then we will consider that this is a collective statement of the Congress.”
Mr. Khurshid, while campaigning for his wife Louise, a Congress candidate from the Farrukhabad constituency, had promised the electorate last month that the party would increase the sub-quota for minorities to nine per cent from the now-promised 4.5 per cent, that would be carved out of the existing 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC).